The phenomenon of internal displacement remains one of the most pressing challenges facing the international community.
Figures peg the magnitude of internal displacement at 20 to 25 million persons in at least 40 countries worldwide and their numbers continue to rise.
Our common experience show that the impact of internal displacement continue to multiply not only because of the lack of human rights awareness of significant stakeholders but also because of the inability of governments to address the root causes of displacement and respond to its undesirable results.
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) has made full use of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID). 10 years from its adoption, the Commission continues to perform the functions that it can best perform for the IDPs--- through human rights promotion and protection.
In this forum, we seek to share with you the Philippine experience in advocating for the rights of internally displaced persons.
Situation of IDPs and CHRP Action
Major displacements in the Philippines are due to ideology –based conflict, political rivalry, clan wars, community violence and military campaign against terrorism.
The armed conflict in the Philippines has already escalated to an unprecedented proportion mainly because the Government is already dealing with five armed insurgent groups – “two Muslim secessionist groups in Southern Philippines, and a Communist armed movement that operates all over the country, along with its three breakaway groups in the Visayas (a regional island group south of Manila) and in the Cordillera Region, north of Manila, and a sixth group is a terrorist organization with international connections, the Abu Sayyaf, with its handful of members operating in the fringes of Mindanao, the southernmost island group in the Philippines.”
Estimates show that from 2000 – 2006 nearly 2 million people were displaced due to armed conflict.
Majority of the displaced manage to go home shortly after fighting ends, only to find their homes and livelihood damaged, ravaged or destroyed. They return still fearful of their safety and forced to evacuate again because of continuing skirmishes.
Due to its location in the globe, the Philippines is also susceptible to natural disasters and calamities. It is said that the Philippines is in the Ring of Fire with typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as the major reasons for Filipinos to be displaced.
Filipinos are forced to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence since they are convinced that there is threat to their life, security, safety and property.
Filipinos are more resilient to the effects of calamity-induced displacement. Their main concern while in the evacuation center is usually that affecting their living condition. It is usually the concern of the internally displaced persons in evacuation centers that the violation of their right to shelter, right to health, right to food and right to water makes them vulnerable.
Otherwise known as “Human Induced Displacement or Development Aggression”, development induced displacement may be due to mining projects, dam projects, flood control projects, railway rehabilitation, illegal logging and land dispute.
Government development plans and projects may seem to be a legitimate form of internal displacement. There appears to be sufficient authority to displace persons and families because all these are for national progress. Whoever stands in the way of the plans and projects may be legally removed therefrom. One may think that the enjoyment of human rights may be subservient to development structures.
CHRP’s Roles in Addressing Internal Displacement
We have gained significant ground in rallying the call for the plight of IDPs through the exercise of the following roles:
As WATCHDOG and INDEPENDENT MONITOR, the CHRP holds the government accountable through investigation and public reporting. The Commission has investigated cases and monitored situations arising from conflict-induced displacement.
The earliest institutional recollection of investigation of internal displacement was recorded even prior to the adoption of the UNGPID, the Commission extended its investigation and financial assistance services to a displaced community in Marag Valley – due to conflict brought about by armed groups north of the island of Luzon in the late 80's.
As EXTERNAL ADVISOR of Government and provider of Standards, the CHRP has addressed the Executive Branch through the issuance of the following advisories:
Human Rights and Military Operations
Press Statements on the recent violent attacks against communities in the province of Lanao del Norte, condemning the acts of reported rogue MILF members
on the All Out War in Mindanao Threatens Human Rights calling on national and local government to prepare
on the ongoing Armed Conflict in the Provinces of Lanao del Norte and Sarangani
on the Right Against Internal Displacement
on Situations of Children in Armed Conflict— 'Children are Zones of Peace'
Within the text of these advisories, the UNGPID provisions were invoked for dutybearers to heed.
As PARTNER and COLLABORATOR, the CHRP has linked with institutions and organizations to enhance the promotion and protection of the human rights of IDPs. Our partners range from grassroot organizations to government and non-government and international organizations.
As MOBILIZER, the CHRP has engaged social forces in meaningful dialogues and forums to enhance the capacities not only of stakeholders but the rightholders themselves. The CHRP is beginning to revitalize as its flagship program the Barangay Human Rights Action Center (BHRAC) to touch base directly with IDPs by providing them with information and mechanisms of redress.
The CHRP has recently acknowledged its important role in giving access to vulnerable sectors including the IDPs in the exercise of their right to electoral participation. But the prioritization of vulnerable sectors by the Commission as an institution, started with the First Philippine Human Rights Plan (PHRP) for the period 1996 – 2000.
The drafting of the PHRP has been significant as it recognized for the first time a rights-based agenda sourced from the participation of significant stakeholders. Both government and non-government organizations were brought together to examine their milieu and draw out administrative and legislative measures that address the difficult circumstances of vulnerable groups including IDPs.
The adoption of measures for IDPs paved the way for the collaboration of the Balay Rehabilitation Center-- a leading NGO in the human rights field focusing on the plight of IDPs and the Commission to advocate in the halls of Congress for the enactment of a bill on the protection of IDPs. The proposed measure translates the principles of the UNGPID into domestic law.
The collaboration resulted in the launch of a year long series of regional consultations among local stakeholders and IDP communities. The consultations were conducted to create awareness on the issue of displacement and to gather support for the Bill on the protection of IDPs.
This culminated in the convening of the First National Multi-Stakeholders Forum on the Human Rights Day in 2005 organized by CHRP and BALAY with the assistance and funding support from the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and Brookings Institution – Bern.
Hearing the call of IDPs and cognizant of the accountability of government and Non-State Actors, the forum identified a common advocacy agenda embodied in the 'Kawit' Declaration:
The declaration prescribes a common agenda for IDPs:
Prevention efforts to abate the occurrence of displacement and the possibility of arbitrary displacement.
Raising national awareness on the problem of internal displacement and tagging this as a national priority.
Gathering of data/information for designing policies and programs to address needs and rights of IDPs.
Sustaining capacity building on the rights of IDPs for multi-stakeholders.
Enacting a law upholding the IDPs' rights.
Supporting IDPs’ organizational processes and decision-making.
Addressing root causes of the conflict and displacement towards durable solutions.
Mobilizing needed resources for adequate and effective responses.
Cooperating with international and regional organizations; and
Utilizing fully the CHRP’s role, mandate, mechanism in a proactive way.
Alongside investigation, monitoring and advocacy work, the Commission initiated the identification of focal persons as well as strengthening of units within the Commission to look after the concerns of all vulnerable groups, including IDPs. Appreciating the influence that the CHRP wields in the landscape of public perception, several field missions have been organized to assess the human rights situation of the displaced particularly because of armed conflict.
Responding to several reports of various UN Committees1, the Commission has internalized the need to establish a data management system. Currently, the Martus system is being put in place and is aspired to provide immediate disaggregated data on cases of human rights violations that entered the system of CHRP.
In order to professionalize the workforce of the Commission, trainings and seminars are continuously being rolled out to increase the core competencies of key officers.
Finally, in accordance with our constitutional mandate, our protection services necessarily include legal and financial assistance.
To better illustrate our efforts to address the situation of the displaced, we take a look at the situation of children as a model:
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has established a Child Rights Center (CRC) undertaking current efforts to increase visibility of IDP rights of children which include dispatching monitoring teams, participated by CHRP regional offices and CRC to assess the situation of the displaced.
From post-mission reports and rapid assessment appraisals, the Commission has been able to do the following:
contribute in raising the level of awareness of the public on the real situation in evacuation centers and in areas of conflict;
prepare legal cases against perpetrators;
provide legal assistance to victims of human rights violations as per our Constitutional mandate;
package recommendations to both local and national governments;
collaborate with international organizations like the United Nations Children’s Funds in mapping out further assistance to the displaced such as the provision of psychosocial services; and
enhance working relations with civil society and non-government organizations working specifically for the IDPs.
One of the most important issues pursued by the CHRP that has come out of our assessment and monitoring work is the condemnation of the use of child soldiers by armed groups. Such focused interest on children in situations of armed conflict, the CHRP would like to think, has pushed open further the door for armed groups to be more circumspect in their treatment and handling of children.
In this connection, another point of impact for the CHRP in the discourse of displacement is the mainstreaming of human rights education not only in the ranks of the armed groups but also in key agencies that deal with displacement.
Through our Education and Research Office and the Child Rights Center, the Commission is revising the Graduated Human Rights Curricula for the armed forces and the police. An amendment to the existing Curricula is in order because of developments in the institutional and legal frameworks. For instance, the old Curricula do not contain the Optional Protocol for the Convention on the Rights of the Child for Children in Armed Conflict. Another important concept that seeks to be further operationalized and internalized for further protection is the recognition of children as “zones of peace.”
CRC is also part of the Sub-Committee on Children Affected by Armed Conflict and Displacement, an inter-agency body subsumed under the executive structure of the Council for the Welfare of the Children with a wide membership that includes government and non-government organizations alike.
An active project of the Sub-committee is the dissemination of the Modules on Child Protection In Times of Emergency (CPIE) which seeks to increase the capacities of local social workers and officers of disaster coordinating councils.
Recognizing that information has to be managed and disaggregated, the Commission has designed an intake form for children. One of the strengths of the intake form is that not only does it focus on children’s issues, it also asks specifically whether or not the children displaced or affected by armed conflict has been denied humanitarian access. This complements the data-banking system recently put in place to facilitate case monitoring of human rights violations captured by the system of the CHRP.
Many observers have noted that the peak in IDP advocacy efforts came with the convening of the First Multi-Stakeholders' Forum on Internal Displacement. The challenge is how to sustain efforts in regard of the commitments crystallized in the Kawit Declaration.
One of the important strategies is the amendment of the current national legal framework so that in can be in consonance to the international standards provided by human rights and humanitarian laws. Indeed, it is imperative to also adopt the Internal Displacement of Persons Law. This will help engineer better accountability, transparency and good governance. Another major undertaking by the CHRP is the advocacy of increasing the right to participation of the rights holders. The displaced themselves, including the women and the children, must be provided with opportunities to meaningfully participate in designing durable solutions for the displaced. One strategy is to ensure the exercise of the right of electoral participation.
Conferences or focusing on IDPs are important in order to steadily increase the awareness of the plight of the displaced and entrench the issues of the displaced in the political agenda. Lastly, cooperation amongst partners within the Philippines and from external donors must be sustained. Financial and technical assistance will assure the continuous exchange of information and good practices to better promote, protect and fulfill the human rights of the displaced.
Meantime, the Commission is poised to raise the issue of IDPs anew with efforts in elevating the right to participation of IDPs.
In sum, our experience in IDP rights investigation, monitoring and advocacy have been many. Much remains to be done even in the face of difficulties in the IDP situation.
The current set up of the Commission has pushed us to be more creative in our responses.
We believe that our potential to raise the issue of IDPs has not been fully realized. In this forum we look forward to exchanging ideas and formulate solutions for the greater protection and promotion of the rights of Internally Displaced Persons.
We are committed to continue heralding the call of IDPs as we fully utilize our greatest asset, our unique position of having access to both government and our people.